This is Part Two of the NBA Home Stretch article. For Part One click here
Side note… this is post #100 so congrats to me on that. I expect cards, balloons, and money from all of you for such an accomplishment. The fact that I’ve stuck with this and made it to 100 is truly amazing. For those of you who have been reading and keeping up over all this time I say sincerely… Thank you! Here’s to 100 more posts!
Part Two, The Playoff Teams. At least if the playoffs started today.
At Least We’re invited to the Party, Right?
Indiana Pacers: Things looked a lot brighter earlier in the season than they do today. Roy Hibbert was playing like a man possessed, Danny Granger had returned to all-star form, and the young nucleus surrounding them was healthy. Then the long haul of the season began to take its toll and things spiraled wildly out of control thanks to poor play and a return to average form for Hibbert. Rather than continuing to compete for a middle seed in the highly competitive Eastern Conference the Pacers fell back to the 8th seed where they face an inevitable first round exit at the hands of the Boston Celtics. Now they find themselves in the worst place possible. Not good enough to actually compete for a title, but not crappy enough to snag a super star in the draft. So enjoy your four or five playoff games Pacers fans. The Celtics are on a mission and you’re just a speed bump along the way.
Memphis Grizzlies: I might as well just copy and paste what I wrote above from the Pacers and apply it to the Grizzlies. Although they have a lot more talent than the Pacers. The problem is that teams in the west are just that much better. In the East this team may be able to compete for a higher seeding but thanks to the NBA’s issues with geography, that’s a no go. To make matters worse their star player, Rudy Gay, has been out with an injured shoulder and they are at jeopardy for losing their playoff spot. Of course securing the 8 seed guarantees a meeting with the top seeded spurs and all but promises an early exit from the playoffs. In all it’s been an up and down year for the Grizz. Mike Conley has improved, but OJ Mayo has regressed. Zach Randolph has been solid but the rest of the big man has underwhelmed. Then there’s the situation as mentioned with Gay. It’s a shame. this team has solid pieces, but for whatever reason they just can’t get to that next level.
Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers, like the Pacers, find themselves back in the endless cycle of mediocrity. Even though they had the #2 pick in the draft last June, Evan Turner hasn’t lived up to the hype. He’s been a solid player, but not what you’d expect from the #2 overall pick. Andre Igoudala did what he always does, make some cool shots, make sportcenter a few times with awesome dunks, and that’s about it. And there in lies the problem. Igoudala is considered their top player and on most teams he’d be the #2 or #3 option at best. Thanks to his horrendous contract there’s no way they will ever dump him unless they mortgage away their future to boot. As is the case this year they don’t stand a chance as a lower seeded playoff team. The upper tier teams are just too good. So enjoy the extra revenue from a few extra games, Philly. You’re gonna need it to help pay for a few more years of Andre Igoudala.
New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets have been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year. The win 13 in a row and then lose 10, win 15 in a row and then lose 12. They are consistently inconsistent and currently find themselves in the midst of one of these downward trends. When they’re on their game they are a very tough team to beat, but when they’re bad… ouch, are they ever bad. This team also has to deal with the fact that they are owned by the NBA and facing rumors about both relocation and contraction. When you factor all of that it in it’s no wonder they can’t keep their heads on straight. Could you not knowing where you’ll be playing next season? This is a team that if it gets hot could cause problems for whoever they get in the first round and maybe even upset the party. Unfortunately they need to figure out which team they are in the next 20 games. The team that plays tough D and wins games, or the team that can’t score or stop anyone and loses nonstop.
We Might Just Be Dumb Enough to Win This Thing:
Portland Trailblazers: Right now the Blazers are the 7th seed in the west, but with their red hot play and the fast decent of the Hornets don’t be surprised is they make a jump up to the 6th or even 5th seed. They also have one very key piece that no one else in the league has… LaMarcus Aldridge. The man is a beast and playing perhaps the best basketball of anyone in the league. He has single handedly propelled the Blazers into title contention. Now thanks to the return of Brandon Roy, albeit in limited minutes, the Blazers are a serious threat. They’re constantly on ESPN and TNT and from what I’ve seen they play hard and hustle on each and every play. There’s a lot to like about this team and if you’re a title team out west…they’re also a team to fear.
New York Knicks: Carmello Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups… Good luck Eastern Conference. This team can’t play a smidgen of defense on most night’s but they sure can score the basketball at will, maybe even more easily than any team in the league right now. And despite their ineptitude on defense, they’ve shown glimpses that they can do it when they want to. However, everything comes down to Carmelo Anthony. He’s the star they have been pining for in New York and now is his time to show that the investment in him is worth it. Yes, they will be a better team in the years to come, but for the time being the Knicks are dangerous. All it’ll take is a few lucky bounces and some timely plays for them to pull off an upset, build some momentum, and find themselves in the finals. It’s highly unlikely, but not completely impossible.
Denver Nuggets: Yes the Nuggets lost Carmelo Anthony, but they got something back in return besides a group of players and future draft picks. They got one huge ass chip on their shoulders. Melo didn’t want to be there and in a way slapped them in the face with an it’s not you it’s me type of trade debacle. Not to mention the new Nuggets will want to prove that the Knicks never should have traded them away. The end result is a team that has been on fire since the trade. Not only have they held on to their playoff spot, they’re threatening to make a move further up the standings. They also have a coach with a massive amount of experience with his own heart warming story for motivation. This team is dangerous. No one wants to admit it, but they are.
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks have been making strides in the past few years. They built themselves up from cellar dweller, to 8 seed, to a four seed and then the second round with the like of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Jamaal Crawford. What’s not to think this team couldn’t take another step along that progression and do some real damage in the east. With the other big Eastern contenders beating the crap out of one another, there’s no reason why the Hawks couldn’t sneak on through. It seems unlikely considering what lies in wait for them in the playoffs, but if there’s a team dumb enough to win the whole thing, the Hawks are it.
Close… But Not Quite There Yet
Orlando Magic: The Magic are an interesting conundrum. At times they look like they could go all the way and at times they look like shit on a shingle. When Nelson, Reddick, Anderson, and Richardson are draining threes they are unstoppable combined with Dwight Howard dominating on the boards and on the defensive end. When the shots aren’t falling and Howard is making stupid decisions and getting technical fouls it’s a whole other story. That’s why i don’t think they can win it all. Not this year. They’ll be a tough out, but nothing more.
Oklahoma City Thunder: This is the team who’s bandwagon I decided to jump on at the beginning of the season. I love the combo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The move to acquire Kendrick Perkins was both bold and necessary. Their complimentary pieces and chemistry are probably better than anyone else currently in contention. I want to say this team is a legit contender right now, but I can’t. Watching them play it just feels like something is missing or off. Maybe they can figure it out in the next 20 games or so. I hope they do. That’s not to say they can’t make s run at the title, but I just feel like other teams are closer. OKC still feels a year away.
Miami Heat: *cue up the “I just lost on the price is right music* Sorry, Miami. There won’t be any championship parade for you this year. The Heat are too small up front, not quick enough at the point guard spot, and lack a bench that can pick up the slack if one of the big three is having an off day. Speaking of which the big three are more like the big three head cases. Lebron, Wade, and Bosh haven’t been able to figure out how to properly complement one another and are beginning to crack at the seams. Throw in their record in close games and against the leagues elite and even more red flag appear. Sure this team might go on to win multiple championships, but it won’t start this year.
Legitimate Title Contenders
Dallas Mavericks: While the Mavericks have been consistently solid all year long and held on tightly to the #2 seed in the west, many are overlooking them as a legit contender for the title. A lot of this is partly due in fact to the loss of Caron Butler earlier in the season and an elderly Jason Kidd running the point. Despite all of this one thing has remained constant… Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki has continued to dominate in his extended prime and is having a remarkable season even by his standards. Thanks to him there’s no reason why the Mavs can’t usurp the Lakers or Spurs for the Western crown. Throw in a healthy dose of Tyson Chandler and the chances become even better. Excellent supporting cast, above average coach, and an owner that wants a title. Smells like a recipe for success to me.
Chicago Bulls: The fast track the Bulls have been on is something we haven’t seen since… we’ll Lebron and the Cavs to be honest. With James gone, the Bulls have ascended to the top of the Central standings and the #2 spot in the East. Derek Rose is the clear front-runner for the MVP with each and every amazing game he plays. Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and even Kyle Korver have had their moments of glory this season. This team is scary good and if it weren’t for a real lack of playoff success I might put them ahead of the Celtics as the front-runner in the East even despite the standings. Regardless, there is no denying how terrifyingly scary this team is right now. They might be the best defensive team in the league thanks to Tom Thibedeu and have the league’s best player. I wouldn’t want to face them at any point.
The Best of the Best:
San Antonio Spurs: Holders of the best record in the league. The original big three. A hard-nosed coach that doesn’t take any crap from anyone. A solid supporting cast in which anyone can step up and pick up the slack at any given point. What’s not to love about this year’s Spurs team? Nothing, absolutely nothing. The big three of Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker are all having stellar seasons again and because of this the Spurs are dominating the league. It also helps that they have been the healthiest team in the league all season long. As a result they have built a comfortable lead in the league standings and barring a massive collapse should have home court advantage all through the playoffs. Have fun with that everyone else. This team knows what it takes to win because they’ve been there before and they’re doing it again. Very scary…very, very scary.
Los Angeles Lakers: They’ve been up and down all year. Players like Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes have had up and down years. However one thing remains constant. The Black Mamba… Kobe Bryant. As long as Bryant is able to take the floor the two-time defending champs have a chance. He has reached a Jordan like killer instinct in recent years and in my post Lebron basketball viewing life have grown to admire it. It also helps that he has Pau Gasol playing out of his mind and Lamar Odom doing what Lamar Odom does. They also know that this is Phil Jackson’s last season and want him to go out with another title. They also have a chance at greatness by three-peating. This would be the second time in Kobe’s career that he accomplished the feat and you know he wants it bad. He wants to be considered the best ever. A sixth ring would put him one step closer. Fear the Black Mamba… fear him.
Boston Celtics: They are…and this is the most important point to take away from them… They are the best team. Period. They have the experience. They’ve been through the battles. They have developed chemistry within their big four of Pierce, Allen, Garnett, and Rondo. They have great supporting cast, particularly with the addition of Jeff Green on the wing to back up Pierce. I do feel like they lost something in giving up Kendrick Perkins to acquire him, but they have enough big bodies, when healthy, to stop most front lines (Both O’Neal’s, Nenad Krstic, Glen Davis, and Troy Murphy). They have the championship pedigree to make one last run at a title and perhaps knock off the Lakers. It’s not going to be easy. They will have to make their way potentially through Chicago, Orlando, Miami, and/or Atlanta. Have fun with that. The biggest question is whether or not the older bodies of Allen, Pierce, and Garnett can take the beating of what is sure to be a very long and physical playoff run. If they can stay healthy and based on how they’ve played so far at the 3/4 mark, there is no reason to believe they won’t make it to the finals.